The question of when to hire new staff can be tricky, especially for a small business or an entrepreneur. Nikki Viljoen gives some tips on knowing when it’s time to start looking, and what look for in potential employees.

More often than not we hire staff that we either do not need or that are completely unsuitable.

Let me explain my statement.

First, we have the situation where we hire staff that we don’t need – this is what happens when you walk into your office and are confronted by a huge mound of paper, files and stuff all over the desk – well, you assume that it is a desk, because you cannot see it. Your first knee-jerk reaction is, “I need help”, and your second knee-jerk reaction is, “I have to hire a staff member”. This is where you need to step away from the problem, take a deep breath, go and have a cup of coffee or a large whiskey (or whatever your choice of poison) and do nothing else. You see, chances are that you actually don’t need anything more than a student-type person for a couple of hours to help you clear through the backlog.

Second, we have the situation where you are correct – you do need someone to help you. And your friend’s aunty’s sister who lives down the road was recently retrenched and “ag shame” she could do with the money – so you hire her and then while she sits and watches you work, you do it all because she has no clue how to do anything. Bad move that! In this situation you are stuck with a new employee that you actually don’t want because they are not helping you, but rather are costing you money and giving you additional work.

Before you actually hire anyone, you need to sit yourself down and ask yourself some really hard questions, like:

1. Do you really need help or are you just a little behind?
2. What exactly will the person do – or rather (in the spirit of being absolutely honest with yourself) – what work are you currently doing that you are prepared to relinquish to another person? Because that is exactly what you will have to do.
3. This work that you are prepared to give up to your new employee – how long does it take you to do it? This will determine whether you need a full day person, a half day person or a now-and-then person.
4. Are you giving the person the things that you hate to do (in which case it would be crazy to hire someone exactly like you – you should be looking at someone completely different to you), or are you going to part with the things that you absolutely love to do (I don’t think that that is even up for discussion)?

So now that you have asked and answered the questions, how do you go about finding that particular person, and then interviewing them and hiring them? Yes, it is a process.

First, I would suggest that you write down exactly what they will need to do and what (if any) qualifications/experience you think they will need to have in order to fulfil their obligations.

Hiring somebody’s aunty’s granny (who lives down the road and who has never used a computer) to do all your online marketing is not a good idea, I am sure you will agree. Taking each task that you want that particular person to perform and listing the minimum skills that they would require in order to perform those tasks would be a good idea.

What usually happens now is that you are left with a list of:

a. Qualifications (e.g. bookkeeping certificate)
b. Skills (e.g. computer literate and versed in Excel and Office)
c. Experience (e.g. 3 years as an administrative assistant)

And of course a list of what you want them to do, such as:

a. Maintaining of filing, both paper and electronic, in compliance with laid down procedures.
b. Data capture new members and maintain existing database.
c. Check and confirm prices and calculation on shipping documents.
d. Check and confirm duties charged on imports etc.

Now you have the basics of a job description, and here’s the bonus: it can be measured.

Once all your requirements and duties are listed, you can use the list to draft your job specs; once your job specs are drafted and you have handed them to the recruitment agency and/or posted them on the various websites you subscribe to, hopefully you will start getting some CV’s in.

Look out for Part II of this article next week.

Nikki is an Internal Auditor and Business Administration Specialist who can be contacted on 083 702 8849 or

Small Business Forum

The Small Business Forum is an independent network of entrpreneurs and small business owners established to encourage and support the creation, growth and development of small business in South Africa.

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